La Naissance d’Une Langue I have a friend who says she's trilingual.

La Naissance d’Une Langue
I P Boltt

I have a friend who says she’s trilingual.

This tasty factoid entices the average listener enough for them to take the bait and nourish her with her favoured foodstuff: their undivided attention. Upon which, in an impressive double-act of faux-modesty and utter arrogance, she eagerly confides her three languages—which, by the way, don’t include her mother tongue, because she learnt that as an infant and doesn’t feel it would be fair to take credit for it.

Fuck her.

Under her conditions, I would be downgraded from bilingual to unilingual. I find this funny, in a sick kind of way. Being bilingual in the truest, most literal sense of the term, the only downgrade I can envisage would involve a scalpel and a tremendous volume of lost blood. Picture it! The white-bright wince of the knife-slice, the horrorshow waterfall of red-black! A tap you can’t turn off. A sea-gulp, penny-suck, battery-lick taste. Gritting house-keys between your teeth. Stickiness. Clotting. A devastating dry-cleaning bill.

Digression aside:

I have two tongues.

I am not a medical marvel. Nor some kind of circus act. I don’t want my life story to be made into a vapid documentary with four gratuitous advert breaks. I am not seeking attention; I am not inviting your pity.

But I want to tell this story. I need to. It is pent up in my throat, the tangible pressure of a growth crying out for extraction. But—and believe me, the irony of what I am about to say does not escape me—I cannot find the words. Even with two tongues. I am overwhelmed by it. I suppose I should start at the beginning, but no single beginning comes to mind. And even if I did, the immensity of the matter means the process would be achingly slow. Like licking my way to the centre of an ice block.

Except the ice is made from something vile, like sea-water. Or blood.

Seawater and blood. There. As good a beginning as any.

Lick, lick.

It was in my blood to begin with. Then there came the sea. Let’s play the blame-game, shall we? Tongues are good at that kind of thing.

I blame the sea.
I blame it for calling out to me, instilling the idea that—if I were to cross it—those dizzying cliffs would be calmed into a distant, kind, white line, smiling between blue and blue.
I blame it for carrying me out in its current and washing me up on an opposite shore where the grass wasn’t greener after all.
(My new tongue says washed-up like this: échouée. It also means failed.)
I blame my father. I blame his mother before him and her father before her. Nomads, all of them, born in one land, drawn to another. A perpetuating cycle of uprooting and taking root again, in which I am doomed to participate.
I blame my mother, too, for running from a bad man to be with a good one. (Though who could blame her?)
I blame my brother.
I blame my sister.
I blame my lover.
I blame myself.
I blame my blood.
I blame the sea.

There’s an idiom that many English speakers misuse. They say, “Blood is thicker than water.” They use it when they want to imply that familial bonds are stronger and more legitimate than those between friends. They do not realise that the original phrase was this: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” Which means the exact opposite.

I don’t know how I feel. I think we need water as much as we need blood. Two liquids, both alike in necessity. Never one without the other.

Perhaps that doesn’t have much to do with my story. Or perhaps it does, if only as a clear example of how having two tongues is conducive to digression. They jostle for position. Speak over each other. Tie themselves in knots. It is a never-ending battle for dominance; a violent, probing tongue-kiss in my own mouth.
Yet, un-erotic. No fun at all.

I can’t breathe at night.

A gradual growth. An inkling became a swelling became a mass. Faced with such an insistent protrusion, I did what anyone might do in such a situation: I ignored it completely.

To be fair to myself, I was a stranger in a strange land. I had other things to worry about. Opening a bank account. Answering the telephone. Mastering the art of pretending to understand when I had reached the acceptable limit of times you can ask a person to repeat the question.

Comment? Pardon? Encore une fois?
Give up.

Smile and nod.

Lump became appendage. I would have been frightened when it began to move, if it weren’t for the fact that the movements were mine; I was only as startled as a tadpole might be by the first kick of its new-grown legs. As for its first words, my old tongue had been so unsuccessful in its attempts at a second language that it came as a positive relief to finally be able to produce guttural Rs; to differentiate between nous and nu, coup and cul.

A tender, pink thing. Raw and glistening. I realised how pale my old tongue had become. How desensitised, how calloused. A coating of scum. Tongue One liked scalding PG Tips; Tongue Two left its café au lait de soja to cool before it could bear a sip. No Marmite, no horseradish, no Branston for newborn tongue! Confiture de figues on white tartines. And yet, this nouvelle langue was far from naïve; it began to speak with confidence, to sing in public. To swear. To smoke Gitanes. To take drugs.

He was sitting on a windowsill, smoking tobacco sprinkled with a few brown crumbs of hash. No filter. I was drawn to the smell of it. Drawn to the angular cut of his cheekbones. His nose.
Slicing the silence of its timid counterpart, my new tongue spoke up.
Talked him home.
Talked him into bed.
Kissed him with a force that left my ears roaring. The dark rush of blood, the violet-white aurora displayed by tight-closed lids. Numbness of the toes, the fingertips. Bruising of the lips.

And Tongue the First? An unwanted bedfellow, curled into a corner of the mouth. Stale and stymied. Sorry for itself. All while Tongue the Second waxed and flourished. Nourished by language. Engorged with lust. A bloodfat leech, feeding off its failing little sister.

Poor old tongue! How could she compete with such a rival? A flailing fledgling, half-starved by her bawdy cuckoo nestmate. And I, a wretched mother wren, exhausted by so many wanting mouths. Who would blame me for culling the runt?

That’s what I am to her. An insignificance. A dead weight. She taunts me. After all, she is stronger now than I ever was. Just listen to her!

“Can you name the parts of a car engine, petite soeur? Can you identify species of seaweed, or the wildflowers of the Cantal mountains? Oh, no! Mais moi, je peux!”

And so on and so on.
To spite me.

And she makes mistakes, I concede that much.
But only because she has the courage to do so.
Unlike me.


I’ve been saying, “me”.
To refer to whom? My old tongue, or myself? Which is which?
Well well.
They say one’s personal language, one’s idiolect, is an outward verbalisation of the self.
Two tongues, two languages.
Two selves.

Separate now.
No more duality. There has been a sort of … shift.
A steady drift.

A chasmic rift.

And now for the grand finale, the big reveal! The one you’ve all been waiting for! The burning bush I’ve been beating about!

(Spit it out!)

My second tongue is starting to control me.
N’importe quoi!
You see! She speaks out of turn. Twists things. Lies.

Quelle idée!
Sorry. Listen, it’s consuming me. I try to phone home and I can’t find the words to say to my mother.

Elle ne m’a jamais aimé, en tout cas.
I have stopped keeping in touch with my friends.

Ils n’étaient jamais mes amis.
I want to go home.

Je ne veux jamais rentrer.
My lover doesn’t know me.

Il me connait comme sa poche.
I don’t love him.
Je l’aime profondement.
Don’t listen, don’t listen, I need help, I need—

Tout va bien, ne l’écoutez pas. Elle ne sait pas de quoi elle parle.

Ta gueule, toi.

Ça suffit. J’en ai marre de cette ancienne langue, ce vieux bout de chair gris et mou, cynique et ennuyeux, qui se plaint sans cesse. Je veux renaitre, entière et neuve et magnifique. Je ne veux plus l’entendre, je ne veux plus qu’elle me coupe la parole, qu’elle s’impose. Je vais mettre fin à cette duplicité, cette bipolarité, cette dispute interne et infinie.
No ! No, no…

Un couteau, la lame invisible tellement c’est fin, tellement ca daille. La vieille langue frémisse, elle est sèche et presque blanche. J’enfonce la lame. C’est fou, comment ça tranche ! Quelle surprise, la fontaine de rouge, quel choc ! Une décapitation. Un barrage cédé. Une douleur émerveillant. L’odeur de rouille me remplis les narines. Je coupe encore, et j’imagine que je coupe une espèce de cordon ombilical qui me reliait a une passée qui n’est plus la mienne, pour laquelle je ne ressens aucun regret. Soudain, la langue cède ; elle tombe dans l’évier comme un pauvre morceau de viande. Mais là, la douleur m’envahi, m’intoxique ; l’odeur, le gout, la marée montant dans ma gorge… j’ai la tête qui tourne. Mon t-shirt, ma culotte, mes jambes, sont rouge de sang ; mes chaussettes se collent au linoleum. Le couteau tombe de ma main. J’entends un bruit sourd, comme une vague infini, et je me sens flotter, prise par un courant invisible. L’eau salée rougie de sang.
Devant mes yeux, la vieille langue se lève.

“Never one without the other” dit-elle.

Je vois une phalaise, distante et blanche, souriante entre bleu et bleu. Et puis noir.

My second tongue is starting to control me.

You see! She speaks out of turn. Twists things. Lies.

What an idea!
Sorry. Listen, it’s consuming me. I try to phone home and I can’t find the words to say to my mother.

She never loved me anyway.
I have stopped keeping in touch with my friends.

They were never my friends.
I want to go home.

I never want to go back.
My lover doesn’t know me.

He knows me like the back of his hand.
I don’t love him.

I love him deeply.
Don’t listen, don’t listen, I need help, I need—

Everything’s fine, don’t listen. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Shut up.

That’s enough. I have had enough of this old tongue, this old piece of flesh, soft and grey, cynical and boring, always complaining. I want to be reborn, whole and new and magnificent. I don’t want to listen to it anymore, I don’t want to be interrupted, to be pushed around. I am going to put an end to this duplicity, this bipolarity, this eternal, internal battle.
No! No, no…

A knife, the blade so fine, so sharp it’s invisible. The old tongue quivers. It is dry, and almost white. I push in the blade. It’s crazy, how well it cuts! What a surprise, the fountain of red, what a shock! A decapitation. A burst dam. A marvellous agony. The smell of rust fills my nostrils. I cut deeper, and I imagine that I’m cutting a kind of umbilical cord, one that tied me to a past that is no longer mine, for which I feel no regret. Suddenly, the tongue gives way; it falls into the sink like a poor scrap of meat. Then, the pain invades me, intoxicates me; the smell, the taste, the rising tide in my throat… my head spins. My t-shirt, my knickers, my legs, red with blood; my socks stick to the linoleum. The knife falls from my hand. I hear a muffled noise, like an infinite wave, and I feel myself floating, caught in an invisible current. Salt water red with blood.

Before my eyes, the old tongue rises.

“Never one without the other” she says.

I see a cliff face, distant and white, smiling between blue and blue. Then, darkness.


I P Boltt HeadshotI P Boltt
was born in London to an Irish mother and a white Zimbabwean father. She grew up on a diet of travel sickness, sibling rivalry, mosquito tablets, library books, and marmite on toast. She studied English Literature, Mandarin, French and History of Art at Durham University. Afterwards, she fled to Brittany to be with her French lover, where she worked as a freelance translator, a nanny to three Indonesian children and a waitress in an Irish pub. She currently resides on a goat farm in the Cantal mountains, working in the local flora and fauna museum. Her downfall is her kindheartedness; her strength is in her inability to make up her mind.

Shain Ramjan HeadshotShain Ramjan was born on the 20th of December 1994 in Edmonton London, England. He studied at the New Eton College where his interests for Art and Designing extended. Later he was then introduced into fashion designing by his sister Insheera Ramjan. Attracted to grotesque figures and avant-garde, Shain started doing portraits of celebrities but re-interpreted them to his own views. He plays with different trends and ‘must haves’ in ‘MODE’ to give his artworks a bold daring appeal. Shain mainly paints feminine portraits which are sometimes pure and innocent or morbid and dark; he tries to reflect his dreams and nightmares through his works. He uses crayonnage, ink, pastel, charcoal, paint and some other techniques to add the ‘fashion art’ touch to his works. He believes that art, fashion and music are the three factors which define himself.

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